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Pre-dawn gas leak prompts neighborhood alarm

Should you dig it?

“Damaging utility lines can result in repair costs, property damage, service disruptions, personal injury or even death,” said James Wingate, executive director of USA North 811. “Choose safety and contact USA before you dig.”

If you’re planning a dig, file a ticket at 811express.com or call 811.

For more information go to www.pge.com/digsafely or www.usanorth811.org/

Residents living along and near West Napa Street were awakened in the early morning hours on Tuesday with the ominous warning to “shelter in place.”

The notice, coming from telephone alerts or a knock on the door between 2 and 3 a.m., warned of a gas leak in the neighborhood.

A six-block area, from Fifth Street to Second Street West, and West Spain to Perkins Street, was alerted to the break, which occurred when a work crew inadvertently broke through a 3-inch natural gas line, according to the Sonoma Valley Fire and Rescue.

The incident took place on the street at 415 W. Napa St. at about 1:23 a.m., when an Anvil Builders crew digging a 5-foot trench for the ongoing water system replacement project broke through the line.

That came just a week after an Anvil crew had cut through an electrical conduit at Fifth Street West, shutting down the stoplight at that intersection. That conduit had not been marked, according to City of Sonoma Public Works Director Colleen Ferguson; this PG&E line, on the other hand, had been.

“My understanding is that they were looking for the line, and had reached a portion of earth that was undistributed, and had not found it,” said the city’s Construction Manager Jane Rozga. They had about a foot to go to the bottom of the trench they were working on, she said, and had been using a shovel to dig. But when they encountered very hard, undisturbed soil about 4 feet down, they believed they had missed the gas line already.

“The material was hard so they used the mini-excavator rather than a shovel,” said Rozga, and the gas line was severed.

Rozga speculated that the gas line had been drilled in “directionally,” so the soil showed no signs of disturbance.

Deanna Contreras of PG&E confirmed that the gas main had been bored in rather than trenched, due to the hardness of the substrata. She also said the line was deeper than most, which may have caused the workmen to believe the line was not in the marked location.

“The line was 6 feet under the street – 71 inches – which is pretty deep,” said Contreras. “The contractor may not have ever seen a line that deep before, and he may have hit an area of bedrock and thought that he was in the clear.”

Contreras and Rozga agreed that the line was properly marked through the 811 system, the Underground Service Alert network of utility providers. PG&E had been notified by Anvil of the potential dig, and the lines were marked to let crews know of their location. The notification of utilities is required for all construction projects, public and private, through the 811 system.

Contreras pointed out that Friday, Aug. 11 (“8-11”), is National Safe Digging Day, to educate the public about the importance of avoiding gas and other utility lines.

“Anytime a home owner or a city or a contractor is doing any work, call 811 or visit 811express.com, and submit the information of the work you’re doing. It could be planting a tree in your back yard, it could be installing a new fence, it’s required that 811 is called. It alerts a ticket for utilities to come out and mark the area.”

Should you dig it?

“Damaging utility lines can result in repair costs, property damage, service disruptions, personal injury or even death,” said James Wingate, executive director of USA North 811. “Choose safety and contact USA before you dig.”

If you’re planning a dig, file a ticket at 811express.com or call 811.

For more information go to www.pge.com/digsafely or www.usanorth811.org/

Red paint is used to mark electrical lines, orange for gas, blue for water pipes and other colors for telecommunications and sewer lines. But even when lines are marked, sometimes accidents will happen – “dig-ins” in the parlance. PG&E has a team of investigators called DIRT – “Dig-in Reduction Team, get it?” – which investigates such incidents.

In the first seven months of 2017, there have been 30 dig-in incidents – half of which did not have proper Underground Service Alert notification, according to PG&E figures.

Eric Leitz of GHD Construction Services serves as on-site inspector for the project, and oversees Anvil Builders’ compliance with the job’s specs and schedules. Leitz said that Anvil was “on top” of the project, and was bringing in additional crew next week to meet the end-of-October goal.

When asked about the two line breaks in a week, Leitz acknowledged it was “unusual,” adding “One of them could have been avoided, one probably couldn’t.”

When the gas line was struck Aug. 8, the Anvil crews “backed off” and called 911, said Rozga, in accordance with protocol. Sonoma Valley Fire and Rescue responded almost immediately from their station on Second Street West, and other responders followed including Sonoma Police, who dispatched on-duty nighttime officers to knock on doors in the immediate neighborhood of the gas line leak, and triggered an emergency call to residents in a six-block area in the early-morning hours on Tuesday.

The message to residents was that there had been a gas leak and to keep doors and windows closed until they received an all-clear message. The Sonoma Police said that the gas line was sealed by 3 a.m., but some residents didn’t receive an all-clear notice until 8 a.m.

PG&E crews repaired the line by jack-hammering two sections of the asphalt on either side of the break and replacing the broken sector, after turning off the gas to the area. The repair was officially completed at 8:30 a.m., according to Ferguson, by which time most area residents had already been given the all-clear.

“The safety of the community and our customers is our top priority, so we definitely want to get the word out about safe digging practices, and calling 811 whether you’re a home owner or contractor,” said Contreras.

Email christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.